Suffering in a broad sense may be an experience of trouble in a person. Suffering can be either physical or mental. It may come in all degrees of severity, from moderate to unbearable. Attitudes toward suffering depend upon the situations. It may vary from person to person, according to how much it is regarded as useful or useless, worth or worthless.
Likewise, joy is a state of mind that brings any pleasurable experience. Scripture acknowledges this natural joy as well as a supernatural joy. The latter can be defined as happiness in life that runs deeper than pain or pleasure. This kind of joy is not limited by external circumstances. It is not a momentary emotion but a quality of life that can be experienced in the midst of a variety of emotions.
To suffer for an ideology or for a philosophy and even for a religious purpose is common. Suffering for a better cause or for a higher choice makes someone joyful, even in the midst of hardship.
The New Testament is replete with the record of suffering accelerated by the advent and proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom. The Christian mission must be a replication of Jesus’ mission. When Jesus was sending out disciples, for the propagation of the gospel, he clearly pointed out the joy in suffering in the gospel presentation. “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Mat.10:22) and “blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (5:11). It has been the fortune of those who follow Jesus to experience suffering. “Remember the word I said to you,” Jesus reminded his disciples, “Servants are not greater than their master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20). The church flourished quickly then the apostles were arrested and threatened, some were imprisoned and murdered (Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-33; 7:54-50). But their suffering was seen not as an affliction; it was rather a means of spreading the gospel. Apostles understood, suffering need not hinder their joy, in fact suffering for Christ cause for rejoicing (Acts 5:41).
When Apostle Paul was caught by God, the Bible says, his call was to suffer for Christ (Acts 9:16). Later in his epistles, we read detailed descriptions of his suffering for the Gospel (Rom. 8:17; 8:36; 2Cor.1:7; 11:23). Paul wanted to know his readers that the joy of his suffering. “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Cor.12:10) “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Phil.1:12; 3:10). It was Paul’s desire that not only he but others also want to enjoy in suffering for the gospel. Therefore he invited his disciples too to participate in the suffering of the Gospel. (2Tim.2:3; 2:12).
Apostle Peter explains the secret of joy in suffering in his first epistle. He says do not be surprised in suffering for the gospel “but rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (I Pet. 4:13; 4:16). He also says suffering is for a while but the joy in such suffering has a future aspect too. After you have suffered a little while, God will restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (I Pet.5:10).
Suffering is part of Christian Missions too, hence both are inseparable. Likewise, Joy is also an inseparable part of Christian missions. When someone dedicates to Christian missions, they understand suffering is an unavoidable part of it. Hence it is a willful choice. There is an unexplained joy behind such willful choices.
To be involved in the mission of Jesus Christ, therefore, is to experience suffering. To be a witness will therefore result in suffering, sometimes in death. This has been particularly true for missionaries. For some, mission has meant violent death. For others it has meant harassment, arrest, and prison. To suffer for the gospel is a sacrifice because it involves a willing abandonment of self in favor of Christ. Apostle Paul was willing to sacrifice for the sake of Christ. He said of “Christ Jesus my Lord for whose sake I have lost all things” (Phil. 3:8). He understood sacrifice can become joyous service to Jesus. Even suffering for his sake can become something for which we “rejoice” (Rom. 5:3).
Throughout centuries, Christian missionaries were shown interest to have a willful choice to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. Founding joy in self-sacrifice was the intrinsic nature of missionaries. Missionaries were willing to give up all their possessions for the sake of the Gospel. They considered, forsaking everything else for Jesus is ultimately no sacrifice at all, it is the wisest choice. Missionary martyr Jim Eliot understood this and said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”. Hudson Taylor understood this and wrote, “What we give up for Christ we gain. What we keep back for ourselves is our real loss.” Their obedience to mission involved suffering. The reason behind such obedience was their worldview towards sufferings. They considered suffering brings glory to Christ’s name; therefore, it is a matter of joy. Proudly they presented their sufferings to the Christian world. In a later period, as the result of their presentations, many were dedicated to Christian missions. They dedicated themselves to suffer because of they found joy in their sufferings for the Gospel.